Forget What Your Freshman English Teacher Taught You

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Published March 15, 2017

Forget What Your Freshman English Teacher Taught You

Let’s take a look at two types of writing.

It was dark and dank. The dreary dusk was fast approaching. Soon it would enter into the piercing cold of a February night. The cascading snow unceasingly fell, creating towering banks of mountain-like sheets of white. It would bring a fearful and dreadful evening to the hopeless homeless men and women clinging to each other underneath the bridge.

That may be lyrical prose— but no one will read it. Write as if you are sending a note to a dear aunt.

Dear Mary: I only today realized how desperate the need is in our community for a center for the homeless. I was walking home the other night and it was bitterly cold.

You know how desperate it can get in Minneapolis in February. There were dozens— yes dozens— of homeless curled up in cardboard boxes.

I simply couldn’t believe it. I was all bundled up in a muffler and heavy coat and I was still shivering with cold. I don’t know how these folks can survive. And it wasn’t only men. Mary, I saw women and children. It broke my heart . . . (From my book, Making the Case)

If you want to touch people, tell stories. If you want to reach people, write conversationally. Colloquial writing is direct. Dramatic. Powerful.